Walruses Crowd Alaska Beach

ENVIRONMENT

Gatherings of walruses crowded together on northwestern Alaska shorelines, like the congregation of about 35,000 animals spotted this weekend near the village of Point Lay, have become regular occurrences in the new era of scarce summer sea ice. (Alaska Dispatch News)

Use our resources to learn more about shrinking summer sea ice.

Thanks to our once-and-future oceans expert, Julie, for the heads-up and help on this current event connection!

Discussion Ideas

  • More than 35,000 walruses are crowding on a single beach near Point Lay, Alaska. Why is dangerous for walruses to gather in such large numbers?
    • Stampedes. Walruses are huge marine mammals, regularly weighing more than 1,000 kilograms (1,800 pounds). Although they are remarkably agile in water, adult walruses can trample juveniles—and each other—when moving around on the land. In fact, authorities are so worried about a walrus stampede they’ve actually re-routed flights to avoid the area around Point Lay! Read more about local and national responses to the walruses in this typically terrific article from the Guardian.
    • Tusks. Both male and female walruses have long teeth (their canines) called tusks. Tusks can grow to 100 centimeters (39 inches) on a male walrus. Walruses are territorial and sometimes use their tusks to defend their territory.
    • Predators. Walruses spend most of their lives at sea, where their only real predator is the orca (killer whale). Such a large, beach-bound herd can be easy prey for terrestrial predators such as bears. Biologists have already spotted dozens of walrus carcasses on the beach—and evidence of both brown bears and polar bears in the area.

 

The adult walruses here, like most of the walruses in Point Lay, are female. (Both male and female walruses have tusks, which start to grow—"erupt"—during a pup's first summer. That means this little ball of blubber—walrus pups are born weighing about 70 kilograms (154 pounds)—is less than a year old.) Walrus pups, sometimes called calves, spend between two to five years with their mothers. Female walruses stick with female herds, while male walruses stick with other young males. Adult male walruses are usually pretty solitary—if you were a 4,000-pound apex predator with 3-foot tusks, you would be, too. Photographic still from the video "Tracking Pacific Walrus: Expedition to the Shrinking Chukchi Sea Ice," by Stephen M. Wessells, USGS

The adult walruses here, like most of the walruses in Point Lay, are female. (Both male and female walruses have tusks, which start to grow, or “erupt,” during a pup’s first summer. That means this little ball of blubber—walrus pups are born weighing about 70 kilograms (154 pounds)—is less than a year old.) Walrus pups, sometimes called calves, spend between two to five years with their mothers. Female walruses will grow up to stick with female herds, while male walruses stick with other young males. Adult male walruses are usually pretty solitary—if you were a 4,000-pound apex predator with 3-foot tusks, you would be, too.
Photographic still from the video “Tracking Pacific Walrus: Expedition to the Shrinking Chukchi Sea Ice,” by Stephen M. Wessells, USGS

 

This is a much healthier environment for a walrus mother and pup—chilling on sea ice in the Chukchi Sea. Photograph by Sarah Sonsthagen, USGS

This is a nice, healthy environment for a walrus mother and pup—chilling on sea ice in the Chukchi Sea.
Photograph by Sarah Sonsthagen, USGS

  • Climate change has led to melting sea ice. Walruses need this critical habitat in order to survive. What other marine mammals rely on the Arctic sea ice for survival?

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Alaska Dispatch News article: Huge onshore crowds of walruses a new phenomenon for Arctic Alaska, scientists say

Map: Twilight of the Arctic Ice

MapMaker Interactive: Northern Alaska, with Point Lay and the Hanna Shoal

Activity: Marine Food Webs

Coloring Page: Arctic Ecosystem

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